During Unusual Session, NJ State Senate Votes on 3 Education Bills as Part of “COVID-19 Emergency Response Package”

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On Thursday March 19th, the state Senate met for a voting session.  During the unusual session, which was held in the General Assembly Chamber, a larger room that allowed for social distancing, the upper house passed the “COVID-19 Emergency Response Package” by a unanimous 34-0 vote.  Previously, on March 16th, the General Assembly met and voted unanimously to pass this same package. The bills are now before the Governor, who has already begun to sign some of the bills. We expect the entire package will be swiftly signed into law. Three of the bills impact public schools:



As you know, under current law, a school district, county vocational school district, or county special services school district must be open for 180 days each school year in order to qualify for State aid.  In the event that a school district does not meet this requirement, the Commissioner of Education will withhold State aid in the succeeding year. While the law does allow the commissioner to remit the penalty for good cause shown, the exemption has been rarely applied.


This bill would allow a school district, county vocational school district, or county special services school district to meet the 180-day requirement in a year with an excessive number of unexpected school closures due to an epidemic, or a weather or other emergency through the use of virtual or remote instruction. Specifically, in the event that a district is required to close its schools for more than three school days due to an epidemic, or a weather or other emergency condition, the commissioner will allow the district to apply to the 180-day requirement one or more days of virtual or remote instruction provided to students on the day or days the schools of the district were closed if the program meets such criteria as may be established by the commissioner.  A district that wants to use a program of virtual or remote instruction to meet the 180-day requirement must submit its proposed program of virtual instruction to the commissioner within 30 days of the effective date of the bill and annually thereafter. The bill provides, however, that if a district is unable to meet the initial 30-day period and the district must close its schools for an epidemic, or a weather or other emergency condition, the commissioner is permitted to retroactively approve the district’s program. If the State or local health department determines that it is advisable that the schools of a district be closed, the superintendent of schools will have the authority to implement the district’s program of virtual or remote learning. The bill provides that a day of virtual or remote instruction will be considered the equivalent of a full day of school attendance for the purposes of meeting State and local graduation requirements, the awarding of course credit, and for such other matters as the commissioner determines.


The bill directs the commissioner to define virtual and remote instruction and provide guidance for its use.  The guidance will also provide districts information on: providing instruction to students who may not have access to a computer or to sufficient broadband; the required length of a virtual or remote instruction day; the impact of virtual or remote instruction on the school lunch and school breakfast programs; the impact of virtual or remote instruction on the schedule for administering State assessments; and such other topics as the commissioner deems necessary.


Nothing in the bill may be construed to supersede or preempt the rights, remedies, and procedures afforded to teaching staff members or a collective bargaining unit under federal or State law or any provision of a collective bargaining agreement entered into by the school district. 


Once the bill is signed by the Governor, this act would take effect immediately. 



This bill provides direction to school districts for the provision of school meals to students if the districts are directed by either the New Jersey Department of Health or the health officer of the jurisdiction to institute a public health-related closure due to the COVID-19 epidemic.  Under these circumstances, the district is required to implement a program during the period of the school closure to provide school meals to all district students who are eligible for the free and reduced price school lunch and school breakfast programs. Under the program, the school district is required to collaborate with county and municipal government officials to identify one or more school meal distribution sites that are walkable and easily accessible to students in the district.  The bill lists possible sites including, but not limited to: faith-based locations; community centers, such as YMCAs; and locations in the school district where summer meals are available. The bill provides, however, that if there is high density housing in a school district, the district must make every effort to identify a school meal distribution site in that housing area.


The bill also requires school districts to identify students for whom a school meal distribution site is not within walking distance.  In the case of these students, the school district will distribute the school meals to the student’s residence or to the student’s bus stop along an established bus route provided that the student or the student’s parent or guardian is present at the bus stop for the distribution.  Food distributed to the student’s residence may include up to a total of three school days’ worth of food per delivery.


School districts may use school buses owned and operated by the district to distribute school meals pursuant to the provisions of the bill.  In the case of a school district that does not own and operate its own buses, the district is permitted to contract for the distribution of school meals and these contracts will not be subject to the public bidding requirements pursuant to the “Public School Contracts Law,” P.L.1977, c.114 (C.18A:18A-1 et seq.).


If a school district is unable to provide school meals through school meal distribution sites or through distributions at the student’s residence, the school district must establish a food voucher system for these students.  The food voucher system must be established in accordance with criteria promulgated by the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Human Services. Under the food voucher system funds will be provided to students to enable them to access nutritious food at food retail stores.


Finally, the bill provides that the State will bear any costs not reimbursed by the federal government which school districts incur in effectuating the provisions of this bill.  The State is required to maximize the waiver flexibilities being provided by the federal government to address the loss of meals for low-income children due to COVID-19-related school closures. 


Once the bill is signed by the Governor, this act would take effect immediately. 



This bill establishes the “Bridging the Digital Divide in Schools Grant Program” in the Department of Education.  The purpose of the program will be to allocate grant moneys to school districts, charter schools, renaissance schools, and nonpublic schools to provide or expand access to technology and technological equipment, such as laptops, tablets, hot spot access devices, and other electronic mobile devices, for students who do not have the means to purchase such items or who do not have access to the Internet at home.  


A grant received by a school district, charter school, renaissance school, or nonpublic school will be specifically used for the purchase of, or for reimbursement of the district’s or school’s purchase of, technology and technological equipment including, but not limited to, laptops, tablets, hot spot access devices, and any other electronic mobile devices that can be used by students in the district or school for the furtherance of their education either in the school setting or at home. 


Once the bill is signed by the Governor, this act would take effect immediately. 

Your NJPSA Government Relations team continues to track and monitor what is happening in Trenton, around the state and in Washington D.C. as our state and federal governments  respond to the novel coronavirus crisis. We will do our very best to keep you up-to-date and informed with new and developing information as promptly as possible. 


We would like to take just a quick moment to say thank you to all of our members, who are doing such an amazing job under very difficult circumstances.  Please continue to reach out if there is anything that we can do to help support you at this time. Please email Debra Bradley, Director of Government Relations dbradley@njpsa.org, or Jennie Lamon, Assistant Director of Government Relations jlamon@njpsa.org at any time with questions, concerns, requests for additional information, or if we may of any assistance. There are several helpful, informative threads on the Leadership Connection, which is another excellent forum to share ideas and resources with your colleagues and NJPSA. If you have any trouble accessing Leadership Connection, please email support@njpsafea.zendesk.com


Thank you for all you are doing for our students and the community. We will get through this – together.